Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/05/04/spotter_id_intro/

Plane-spotters recruited in War on Terror

Do you have a licence for those binoculars, sir?

By John Lettice

Posted in Media, 4th May 2004 14:43 GMT

A BBC report provides a treasurable example of how identity-based restrictions on the populace can and will be presented as beneficial. And indeed, how you can be induced vet yourself - first, they came for the plane-spotters, as someone so nearly said.

As you'll see from the BBC report, the police and British Airport Authority have recruited plane-spotters to the war on terror around Heathrow, on the basis that they spend a reasonable amount of time in the area, and are well-placed to notice the presence of "people outside the aviation enthusiast community whose interest in the airport [is] not genuine." The real enthusiasts are being given ID cards and a code of conduct as part of the scheme. Which certainly makes some sense, in that they're in a good position to ID any terrorists who feel the need to go beyond airline schedules, maps and the public viewing platform in their plotting.

But the presentation of the story and the story itself are perhaps two separate things. A little further down you'll note that the Aviation Enthusiasts Security Scheme is being run by aviation enthusiasts' club LAAS International, which developed it "in response to a request from the authorities for a single sponsoring organisation for plane spotters." The £15 card will help airport operators "identify the real, responsible enthusiasts." And indeed will allow people who don't have the card to be identified as suspect, and facilitate the expansion of 'ID required' security zones beyond the perimeter fence of airports. And as Chief Superindentent Savill of the Metropolitan Police tells us, "groups" that could help in similar ways have been targeted, so it's not just the plane spotters.

The LAAS site explains the initial nature of the request. An increase in security at airports meant that enthusiasts "would be moved on from viewing spots and car parks as they were classed as a possible security risk." Seeking to preserve its members' access to airports LAAS then negotiated the ID scheme.

Clearly, there is reason to worry about people around airports who look like they might be checking out possible Stinger launch sites. Or indeed people who look like they might be carrying Stingers, so in that sense it is perfectly legitimate for security services to take an interest in people who are hanging around these areas. But in this particular case we have moved from a position where anyone was perfectly free to while away a couple of hours watching the planes to one where you must demonstrate a legitimate interest and ID in order to be able to do so. And the security services have figured out how to put a positive spin on the change.

Presumably any organisation planning demonstrations in the vicinity of airfields and other military installations in the UK will face no problems in setting up a similar scheme for its membership. ®